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Can't seem to offer free choice

Discussion in 'Feeding & Watering Your Flock' started by Original Recipe, Feb 2, 2014.

  1. Original Recipe

    Original Recipe In the Brooder

    Sep 3, 2013
    I read on here all the time that people offer oyster shell and grit "free choice", most often saying that they will ingest only what they need. How in the world are you able to do this? I can't offer mine any without them devouring every last speck of it in one sitting.

    I have 8 pullets: 6 are GC; 1 BO; 1 EE. I don't normally need to offer grit since there is a lot of fine gravel and sand where they free range. However, they can't get to it readily when there is snow cover or the ground is frozen hard. So when the first snow began to fly here, I put a metal rabbit feeder in the run and filled it with grit (about 2 cups worth). I looked in about 30 minutes later and much to my surprise, it was all gone! I waited a couple of days and tried again, this time with about half as much grit. Same thing happened. I finally took to just sprinkling a tablespoon worth over their fodder mats and in their BOSS ration.

    Once the Comets began to approach POL, I filled the rabbit pan with oyster shell (again, about 2 cups worth). Just as with the grit, they devoured it all within 30 minutes. I tried again for several days with smaller amounts (1/4 - 1/2 cup), but the only thing that happened is the three birds highest on the pecking order would eat it all leaving none for the others. I can't imagine that any chicken could possibly need that much oyster or grit in a day (especially the BO and EE whom I wouldn't expect to start laying for many more weeks). So just as with the grit, I took to distributing about a tablespoon worth around the parameter of their feeder each morning. Everybody gets some and nobody gets too much.

    This process is working for now, but my dilemma is once spring hits, we will be gone on weekends a lot (occasionally longer) clear through summer and fall. I have plans to automate the food and water distribution so that we can be away for several days without worry. I don't want to bother my neighbors to do anything but simply collect eggs, so I'd really like to be ably to offer "free choice". How can I train my girls to use grit and oyster shell "free choice" without over consumption?

  2. Percheron chick

    Percheron chick Crowing

    Apr 12, 2013
    Boulder, Colorado
    If you are feeding a layer ration than you don't need to offer supplemental Ca.

    If they are filling up on grit and oyster shell, my guess is they are bored more than anything else. Put out a head of cabbage with the grit and see what they go for. If they are still obsessed with the grit, take it away and just sprinkle it in their run or over their food. I never have offered grit. Even with snow on the ground, the few times a week they venture out, they get their fill.

    If they do need additional Ca once in a while, just toss it out in the run with some scratch.
    Last edited: Feb 2, 2014
  3. Original Recipe

    Original Recipe In the Brooder

    Sep 3, 2013
    Not feeding layer at this point. Only half of my girls are laying so far (started 3 weeks ago). My EE started this week but I don't expect the BO to start for another 6 weeks or so. Was planning to feed grower indefinitely with supplemental oyster shell. Grit I'm no too concerned with since I'll only need to provide it when they can't get to what's already on the ground.
  4. cafarmgirl

    cafarmgirl Crowing

    When my birds were young they were fascinated with the grit whenever I'd fill the dish and it was the same with the oyster shell when I started putting that out when they started laying. As soon as I'd fill it they'd converge on the dish and it looked like they were hogging it down as fast as they could. What was actually happening was that they were just curious and maybe thinking there had to be good food hiding in there somewhere because they were actually just billing through it and most of it was getting shoveled out into the bedding. As they've gotten older this curiosity has gone away and they take what they need from their free choice grit/oyster shell feeders.
  5. Original Recipe

    Original Recipe In the Brooder

    Sep 3, 2013
    Well mine are actually consuming most of it with very little spillage. The times that I put it out in the pan they'd jump on it and not stop until it was gone and their crops would be completely full and hard. I tried waiting until after they had eaten to put it out but they still would eat it all, just took a little longer. Do you suppose if I just let them gorge on it they would eventually lose interest? I would be concerned about overwhelming their little systems. I know that too much calcium is bad for them, particularly those that haven't started leying yet.
  6. cstronks

    cstronks Songster

    Mar 12, 2013
    New Jersey
    If the birds are all around the 18-20 week mark, then it is really time that you begin feeding them layer pellets. Just because all birds have not started laying does not mean that layer shouldn't be provided. I fed my hens layer when they turned about 20 weeks old. None had begun to lay, but a few had been squatting and were more vocal, so I figured I should make the switch. Within a week, a few birds began laying. At the end of the month, most of my flock was laying.

    As an outlier, I have an orpington who began laying at 8 months old. For some reason she started much later than her sisters did. However, she has been eating layer feed since she was 20, but she didn't produce for such a long span. She has nothing wrong with her from it. I have heard from the employees at the local feed store that the only real issue with layer feed is giving it too early, like to 10-12 week old pullets who are nowhere near laying. I was advised to make the change when my birds turned 20 weeks, and they have been doing great. Hope this helps.

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